The Mournes mountains, rising out of the sea on the east coast of Northern Ireland would set the scene for the final race in the UK Skyrunning series. It would be my second time in Ireland having raced a triathlon on the west coast over four years ago. The race would also bring to a close my 2018 season of racing in the mountains. The race would take us over 35km and 3000m and over 9 peaks. I arrived a couple of days before race day to chill out and also get my bearings, something that I really find useful and that definitely makes me more relaxed on race day.
Saturday came quickly and before I knew it I was walking along the promenade in Newcastle, as the sun was coming up, to sign on for the race. I collected my number and went through the kit check procedures. I felt relaxed but keen to get the race started. 250 runners took to the start line and before I knew it we were heading up through the woods and onto the trails. The race start was peaceful and certainly a lot less stressful in comparison to the hectic start at the Ring Of Steall the month before.
As the gradient increased the race started to take place. Myself and Martin Lynch broke free from the main pack of runners heading out onto the mountain trails. We swapped positions on the front taking it in turns to push into the headwind and pushing each other to up the pace. I felt fresh and light, my feet gripping to every rock gliding over the trails, a feeling that you pray for on race day. The kilometres flew by and I really started to enjoy every second of what the Mournes had to offer. As the trails became more technical I could feel Martin was struggling a little and tested the waters by throwing in a few accelerations. After a few of these little attacks I finally gained a gap. From my bike racing past I know when you’ve got that gap you have to go. So I pushed on. A distance of around 100m opened up between us and seemed to stay this way for the next hour. We dipped out of the clouds and through the half way check point. The race was very well marked and marshalled, such a blessing when you don’t have to worry about navigation in a race that you are new to.
No Limits Photography
After a short road section I was climbing again, up into the fog and to take on the last 16km. I started to distance Martin and finally he was out of sight. I pushed the pace to ensure no one else would come back up to me. When leading a race you have to stay strong mentally and keep pushing, I tell myself that its not over until you cross that finish line. Before I know it I’m on the last ascent of Slieve Donard. A short punchy climb to touch the summit and then a 7km descent to the finish. I’m relieved to reach the top and then start to push on towards the finish, trying to keep it sensible but not to let my pace drop.
I’m suddenly back in the forest and speeding down the fire tracks to the finish line in Donard park. The finish comes into sight and entering the last few meters I feel elated and happy that I’ve been able to put the race together that I wanted to on the day. I finish in 3hours 45mins taking over 4mins of the previous course record and hopefully securing the overall win in the UK Skyrunning series.
A fantastic race, with the most friendly and helpful marshals, I’ll definitely be back. Thanks to the support from Scott Sports with equipment and to Mountain Fuel and Longhaul for keeping me fuelled throughout the race.